2 Poems About My Stage 4 Hodgkin Lymphoma


These poems encapsulated my successful battle with stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma.

Image of a clipboard that says "Diagnosis: Lymphoma."

A poem about Alpiner's experience when he received a diagnosis of stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma.

These poems were among the work that made up my MFA thesis entitled “Flying on the Edge.” The thesis (which passed with no edits) combined poems of my successful battle with stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma and the spiritual totems and personal strength one can derive from birds (I became an avid birder during and since my treatment and recovery).

(Felix Natalis)

It was a season of miracles,

cancer at stage 4, outlook tenuous,

my life a social inconvenience,

water from Lourdes caressing my spine,

fusing hope to the very bone.

​​The biopsy found only necrotic cells.

​​We’re ruling out eosinophilic granuloma.

If I were born to a different decade,

treated with crude instruments from the past,

the not so distant past, I might not —

What I mean to say is

I came close. It was not until I saw

my daughters run to me with Christmas in their eyes

that I realized how close I had come.

​​The lymph node extraction is conclusive;

​​It was Hodgkin lymphoma all along

I somehow found air in a vacuum,

my job loss, my divorce, both as much a secret

as the origin of the disease within me.

Before surgery, one day before, it was my birthday.

A fractured family gathered in sickness and in health,

placebo for a throbbing heart, I had to live

with the scars of a broken vow.

​​We will be using strong chemotherapy drugs,

​​then radiation — you will not be able to work.

My daughters were smuggled in to see me,

Cancer Ward D, no place for children,

yet they played make believe with my buttons and tubing.

Then came the gentle reminder that visiting hours were ending.

I required help to lie down.

I descended after all were gone, a vulture, black as those souls

eating the dead,

circling, circling.

Poker Face

My father hadn’t seen me for five months,

​​driving distance, my deliberate perimeter

​​through winter and spring, finalizing the divorce,

​​loss of twenty pounds transparent;

​​what belly I had acquired disappeared,

​​skin pale as rice paper and of a similar grain.

​​He didn’t know what to expect,

​​three hours through Pennsylvania and Jersey,

​​one long mollifying monologue,

​​the stress of coming back, and to this,

​​thinking of words to replace the term cancer.


​​He never played poker; his performances on radio

​​allowed him to smirk and sneer undetected.

​​Even as he observed me in my transparent case,

​​he never let on that I was disappearing.


​​When I was a child, he downplayed everything,

​​time too short to take ourselves seriously,

​​taught me to joke away anger and anxiety.

​​Here he had reason to break,

​​my very foundation crumbling,

​​Running, sacrificing for love’s sake.

This post was written and submitted by Michael Alpiner. The article reflects the views of Alpiner and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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